Trophies line the windowsill in a classroom inside Immanuel Lutheran School.
Banners hang in a hallway near the main entrance to the Seymour school.
Since starting robotics in 2017 for grades 3 through 8, Immanuel’s success is evident.
Each year, the program has hosted tournaments and sent multiple teams to the state and world competitions. 2020 has an exception since VEX Robotics decided to cancel the world event due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
For the 2020-21 season, the pandemic still played a role, as two tournaments at Immanuel were much smaller and two others, including state, were conducted virtually.
Still, two duos — fourth-graders Christopher Pumphrey and Adam Alberring of 520G and fourth-grader Ben Dyer and fifth-grader Daniel Bode of 520K — qualified for the world competition in May.
They, however, won’t be participating. Coach Dallas Goecker said while it’s nice to have an opportunity to compete at that level this year, worlds just isn’t the same virtually as it is in person. Plus, there is a cost to enter.
“Worlds is all about the experience for the three days and meeting all of the different people, and this year, it’s really just going to be them with a camera sitting right here (in the robotics classroom) doing a couple of matches,” Goecker said. “It’s the last couple days of school that they are going to be doing that in. It wasn’t going to be the same experience.”
The students still can be proud of what they accomplished this season and the fact that they even had an opportunity to compete.
This season’s VEX IQ challenge is Rise Above. The object of the game is to score as many points as possible with an alliance partner by scoring risers in goals, completing rows and completing stacks. Placing an 8.7-inch-tall riser inside a goal is worth one point, each completed row is three points and each completed stack is 30 points.
There are 27 total risers on the field, and the students compete in the Teamwork Challenge as an alliance in 60-second-long teamwork matches or the Robot Skills Challenge as driver-controlled or autonomous.
The virtual competitions this season, however, took out the alliance part, Goecker said.
“State was all done as remote skills,” he said. “Normally, the tournaments have two robots working together. This year, not exclusively but a lot of it was teams working by themselves to score as many points as they could.”
They then got globally ranked by division — elementary, middle or high school.
“There’s a big database of all of the teams in the world that ranks them globally, so all of your official scores go into that,” Goecker said. “For state, they took the top 200 teams. And then maybe top 50 or 60 qualified for worlds.”
Dyer and Bode were 39th in the state, and Pumphrey and Alberring were 47th. They were among seven Immanuel teams that qualified for state — six in the elementary division and one in the middle school division.
This season, Dyer and Bode won skills twice and won a tournament once. This was their first time being paired together.
“He had the experience, and I had the ideas,” Dyer said of what made them a good team. “With my dyslexia, I also think outside the box because your mind opens to more ideas, so I guess that would have been a help.”
Bode’s experience comes from prior years of robotics.
“I had learned a lot of things from my dad the last two years, and he just helped me at the beginning of the year get some ideas to start off the year with, and we just built off of that,” Bode said. “Then we could practice for just weeks, and then we could do really well in tournaments. (Dyer) was a really good driver, and if I couldn’t get exactly what I needed, he could finish it up and he could get the rest of the points.”
Pumphrey and Alberring worked together in prior years, so they used that to their advantage.
Whether they were competing with controllers or not, the boys were able to stack risers to rack up points in the virtual state competition.
“We can score well and stack,” Alberring said.
“We worked hard on our programming,” Pumphrey said. “We got 12 points. Then we got our stacks, so we got 52 points that day and we got 47th in the state.”
While Bode and Dyer may have different partners next school year, Pumphrey and Alberring plan to continue working together.
“Our teamwork is going to get better. Then we’ll see how the challenge is next year,” Pumphrey said.
“We could build our robot bigger and better to score a lot more points,” Alberring said.
Goecker praised the duo for the work they put in this season.
“They just kept at it. They kept going, kept tweaking and kept working and kept practicing,” he said. “The teams that do well are the teams that just keep trying, keep working at it and keep working at it versus just getting discouraged and/or just not pushing themselves any further.”
When it comes to driving, Goecker said building the robot is definitely a big part of it, but there’s also a good percentage that’s learning how to drive and actually control it and practicing that.
“One of the big differentiators for a lot of these teams is their programming,” he said. “When they can program the robot to do things and score points automatically, that’s additional points that they get compared to other teams, so that really made a big difference.”
This season, Immanuel had a total of 15 teams and 30 students. While numbers were down at some schools around the state and world this year, Goecker was glad to see a growing interest in robotics at Immanuel.
“It was good to see that our school and community were still up and running with robotics,” he said. “This is a great way of competing with their creativity, and I think that’s an important thing, and I think that’s what they see a lot where they get to create and compete with their ideas.”
There were some changes implemented due to the pandemic, including teams practicing at different times and competitions conducted virtually, but the fact that there was a full season is a big plus.
“They didn’t get as many competition opportunities to kind of learn from their mistakes and rebuild and things like that. We didn’t have as many practices this year as we did last year. We got a little slower start at the beginning of the year,” Goecker said. “But we still kept going throughout the year. Every team would have one practice a week, so they still got to do it, got to still experience it.”
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VEX Robotics: vexrobotics.com
Immanuel Lutheran School robotics: facebook.com/ilsrobotics